Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general and the campaign’s senior adviser in the state, remembers having to call Romney in the summer of 2010 to tell him that he had been arrested for drunken driving.
“I felt terrible,” he said. “I had embarrassed him. I had embarrassed the campaign. I knew I didn’t want to be a liability.”
He dialed, identified himself, asked to speak to Romney, and waited. “And the first thing he says is, ‘If you were Mormon, Tom, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ”
Romney chuckled. Rath started to offer to resign, “and he cut me off, and said, ‘Tom, you and I are joined at the hip.’ And that was that.”
When Romney’s brother, Scott, had cancer years ago, he “called me every night,” said Scott, 70, a Detroit lawyer. “He’d ask how I was doing and listen to my worries. And then he would present all the research on my options he had done during the day. He didn’t just check in. He acted.
“It showed how much he loved me, but that’s the approach he brings to everything.”
Romney’s urge to fix stuff is both nature and nurture, Scott Romney suggested.
“He liked fixing things. I think it was innate, probably, and then he just built on it and built on it.
It’s just how we were raised,” Scott Romney said, “to have the capacity to do things.”
Their grandfather had gone broke five times, he pointed out. Living through that prompted their father, George, to insist that Scott go to night school to learn electrical wiring even as he spent his days at the elite Cranbrook School in suburban Detroit that Mitt also attended.
“Both my mother and my father told all of us, ‘You need to know how to do things,’ ” Scott said. “The people who are important are those who get things done.”
Romney himself agreed to an interview, but his campaign did not schedule it before this article’s deadline.
Associates from business and government say Romney’s operating system goes to work on a problem like this:
Romney asks for data, and then more data. “There are answers in numbers — gold in numbers,” he wrote in “Turnaround,” his account of rescuing the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. “Pile the budgets on my desk and let me wallow.”
He gathers his staff members together so they can deliver their ideas. They debate. A passionate, emotional argument is not going to have much influence on the supremely rational mind of Mitt Romney. “He requires justification,” Madden said. “Why are we going to do this?”
With his characteristic work ethic, after investing in a company as head of Bain Capital, Romney would roll up his sleeves, learn the business like an insider and re-envision it — with the imperative of increasing profitability as the guiding principle. Then he would turn to marketing, jazz up the wonk and sell it to whatever audience he needed to address.
In Massachusetts, Romney’s hunt for “efficiencies” and “incentivizations” — and the threat of losing millions in federal funding for health care from the George W. Bush administration — is what propelled him and his team to institute a universal health-care system that served as a model for the Obama administration’s plan.
Was he moved to help people, selling the plan politically as cost controls? Or was insuring the poor just a happy side effect of a better bottom line? Does it matter? The net result was the same.
“Look, he does have an overriding philosophy about caring for people,” Scott Romney said. “Government should be efficient, it needs to be there to help solve people’s problems, and we need to reduce our costs.”
And in service of these goals, Romney’s flip-floppery could be interpreted as a flexibility of thinking that might help him bust through warring ideologies in Washington — an asset, not a deficit — and fix his biggest set of problems yet.